Reaching Nineveh

This time when God said for Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh, he did just that. When God told him to do that before, Jonah ran and rode and swam the opposite way and right into the belly of a ridiculously large fish. In that fish, Jonah discovered just how much he didn’t want to die and rediscovered his love for God.

So the fish barfed Jonah up on shore after three days, and as Jonah stood with seaweed wrapped around him, undigested fish fins stuck to him, stomach acid and salt water dripping off of him, God told him once again to get up and go to Nineveh.

Jonah got up and went to Nineveh. No shower or wardrobe change. No different state of mind. Jonah was smelly, unkempt, and didn’t want to go. He was (probably) still afraid of being tortured and dying, and maybe he was a little bit bitter about having to go to Nineveh despite the trouble he went through to avoid the errand. But Jonah went. More secure in his relationship with God and having more faith in God, Jonah went to Nineveh.

My dad always said that life is full of doing things you don’t want to do. For example, I didn’t want to get student loans, but I had to in order to go to college. I didn’t want to take a job I needed, but I had to when I couldn’t get one I wanted. I didn’t want to get up and go to work on Monday, but I had to since I’ve got bills to pay, including student loans, which got me the degree that got me my job. And although this isn’t an extensive list of things I have to do but don’t want to, I’m sure you can relate and probably have a few things in mind yourself.

None more so than Jonah, right? But to Jonah’s credit, you can’t really tell it from reading chapter three by itself. “On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: ‘Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!’” (Jonah 3:4, NLT)

Jonah’s boldness is really encouraging here. We know that Jonah – a smart, capable man – is not this bold on his own because Jonah’s first instinct and action was running away from it. Had this degree of boldness been active in Jonah without help, the book of Jonah would start at chapter three and the first half wouldn’t exist. Jonah’s boldness is born of his faith in a faithful God. His ability to be bold comes from worshipping and having a relationship with a God intense enough to design and form a fish to swallow Jonah but not eat him. Jonah’s boldness came from his strength in God.

One would think that the Ninevites would react badly to Jonah’s proclamation. Scoff or laugh, beat him, make an example of him. Surely Jonah thought that, although it’s not in the text. That’s not what happened, though. “The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.” (Jonah 3:5, NLT)

The dreadful people of Nineveh didn’t need a second warning from God. They stopped what they were doing and went into repentance mode. They fasted, and I imagine that the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which was a powerful empire, had plenty of good food. They put on burlap, not because it was fashionable and comfy but because it was just the opposite. Changing the outside from flashy and lavish to basic and minimal. The texture and thickness would’ve caused them a lot of discomfort, making them hot and itchy (and causing other problems through the combination of the two). It’s the concept of repenting through suffering.

The king hears Jonah, and instead of saying he and everyone else is crazy, the king does something remarkable. “…he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: ‘No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.’” (Jonah 3:6-8, NLT)

The king joined his people. He believed and recognized the character of God. He believed He could and would destroy them. He identified God as powerful. He also believed God could be compassionate.

Not only did he tell his people what to do physically, the king told the people to put an end to what caused God to be angry with them. He told them to change inside and out, and it was a change he was going to make with them.

“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10, NLT)

Just as the king suspected it: powerful and compassionate. No destruction, no desolation. Forgiveness.

The same forgiveness we see in our lives. Oh, I’ve never murdered anyone or taken land, but I’ve killed moments and stolen joy. I’ve wounded people and added bitterness to the world. God’s had to forgive me for a lot, just like the people of Nineveh. He’s replaced hurt with healing, replaced bitterness with blessings. If you’ve never experienced this, you’re missing out on an offer that is still extended to you. It’s not too late, and you’re not too far. If God can reach Jonah in a fish and Nineveh in its sin, He can absolutely reach you.

By Carrie Prevette

Through Suffering

My dad always told me that he thought the reason he was put on this planet was to raise his three kids and watch them grow up. (Personally, I believe he was selling himself short because he did so much more than that.) So when he died when I was only 20, technically an adult but not practically, I wasn’t only hurt, I was confused. How was I fully grown? I was still in school. I was old enough to vote, but I wasn’t old enough to drink. I was clueless about insurance, taxes, and other adult things. I still needed my dad. If his purpose was to raise me and help me, why did I lose him before he was finished?

I soon realized that even though my dad died decades before either of us thought he would, it was for a reason. If for no other reason, it was because my dad needed relief from his pain and God knew I’d be able to handle it with His help. About a year and a half later, I found out there was more to it than that.

A friend of mine told me that her grandfather had stage four lung cancer and that he didn’t have much time left. I told her that was exactly what I’d gone through with my dad. The more we talked, the more we discovered the similarities between my father and her grandfather. The situations were too similar to be a mere coincidence. This had God’s fingerprints all over it.

I listened to her talk about her grandfather and how much she loved him. It was beautiful. Her face lit up and she got a big smile on her face. I also listened to her talk about how hard it all was. Because I had been in her position before, I was able to give her advice and tell her how I dealt with it. She was kind enough to listen to me in return.

If she’s reading this, I’d like to officially extend my sincerest thanks to her. Not only did she give me a reason to talk about my dad, but she also helped me make sense of losing him.

She helped me realize that I would encounter situations like ours, although not always quite as similar, for the rest of my life. And while what happened to me was tragic, good could still come from it because now I could help others get through it. Both my friend and I handled the passing of our loved ones really well, and I’m proud of us, but not everyone handles it so well. Plus it’s always nice to have the option of talking to someone who’s been in your situation before, so if I could be that for anyone, I’d love to.

I can see why people think that being a Christian means you’re going to have this perfect life, although that’s definitely not true. It’s kind of a result of thinking of God as this omnipotent genie who gives you unlimited wishes. God’s all-powerful, right? And He loves you, right? So why wouldn’t He give you every single thing you ask for?

That’s fair. But what some people don’t realize is that God isn’t just interested in making all of us happy. That would mean that He serves us, and that’s incorrect. God is interested in each of us living the greatest life possible and us doing so as great people. That requires Him acting in our lives and a lot of growth on our part.

Growth never comes from comfort.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I know why everything happens, that I have all the answers. That would be the biggest lie I’ve ever told. But I will tell you that I believe every hardship or setback we endure is for a reason, regardless of whether we know what that reason is or not, and that those awful times are an opportunity for us to grow as people and as believers.

Isaiah 64:8 (NRSV) says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

I took a pottery class in high school, and it left me with about ten mediocre pieces of pottery and a whole new way of looking at this verse. Being a human, I was used to being the clay. I understood the clay’s struggles, the pains of being centered, pulled, and sculpted. But for one semester, I was a potter, and I saw the pains and frustrations that came with it. If you don’t use enough water, your hands start to burn. You sit hunched over, which can get uncomfortable. You can never get all the dirt out from under your nails. Sometimes it’s really hard to center the piece. When you pull the clay up, it can be really uneven or too thin. If you make the slightest unintentional move with a tool, you can ruin a piece. But the most frustrating part is when something goes wrong right at the very end and you have to start all over.

That semester taught me that it also hurts to be the potter sometimes.

God is undoubtedly a much better potter than I am, but that doesn’t mean some of what He has to do to us doesn’t hurt Him as well.

God doesn’t just sit back and watch when we go through dreadful times. He isn’t laughing manically or wearing an evil smirk when they happen either. You going through a rough time doesn’t mean that God’s doing it for fun or that He doesn’t want to help you. He loves you too much for that.

Maybe you think that you can’t take much more. Maybe you think that it’s all worse than you imagined it could ever get, and you’re at the point of giving up. If you’re at the point where your faith is almost gone, hang on just a little bit longer. God is faithful. If He said He would make a way, He will make a way. If He told you He’d fix it, He’ll fix it. If He told you that it will get better, it will. Take God at His word. Hold on to His promises. At our lowest, there’s not much that we’ll trust and hold on to, but I can assure you that it is safe to hold on to God and what He’s told you. Trust God even if you don’t trust anything else.

Your bad times are necessary to get you to your greater life. That might not always make sense, and it certainly doesn’t feel awesome. But your suffering doesn’t go unnoticed, and it isn’t pointless. God will never put you through something that you hate for no reason at all.

By Carrie Prevette

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